African American Borrowings for Democracy, Within Histories and Politics of Racism, Colonialism, and White Supremacy

Lynda Stone, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This paper presents a story of African American contributions against racism, colonialism, and white supremacy situated in a current political moment, a serious threat to American democracy. Out of the tradition of western essay, it is built on exemplars, philosophically not meant to be definitive or exhaustive. It is introduced via The 1619 Project, a multi-modal educational endeavor focusing on racism underlying events and themes across the nation’s history. The central volume of essays, fiction, and poetry, edited by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, has been the site of national contestation even as American history “is changed.” What follows is a set of sections: Section one overviews “borrowings,” a thematic background taken from the arts. Cultural borrowing seems inevitable in a diverse world but with consequences that harm and benefit.

Sections two and three are primarily historic, presenting selective elements within American colonialism, white supremacy, and connection to Africa. Section two, employing “colonialism” rather than “postcolonialism,” offers America as a “multi-colony,” with various forms often existing simultaneously. Section four presents two black American artists, Zora Neale Hurston and Kehinde Wiley, author and painter-sculptor, different in times and creative forms who each contribute to black cultural identity and in doing so challenge white supremacy. Section five then turns to American democracy today and the threat to education, to book banning as one target of a conservative, fascist movement based in racism and white supremacy. The paper concludes that in the United States democracy is yet to come. African American undertakings, in a minority-majority nation, both historically and today are exemplary in seeking realization.

The Place of Memory: race, belonging and Bildung in the North American African diaspora

Noemi Bartolucci

This paper explores the relationship between race, place and Bildung, specifically the problematics of Black American identity and the troubled concept of America itself, and the fatefully compromised roots of this modern democracy (“We the People!”—but which people are we?). The paper employs works by Ralph Ellison (namely, Invisible Man) and Langston Hughes as an opportunity to think about Bildung, the Bildungsroman and other literary works associated with the struggle that is Bildung as a means to explore different facets of identity, or the ways in which ‘identity’ is showcased in this kind of literature. It also explores the significance of place for our ‘becoming’ as human beings, and the way that coming into relationship with place is an inherent aspect of education. This relationship being essentially conflicted in the Black American context of the mid- 20th century. Ideas about place are developed through Heidegger and humanist geographer Edward Relph, who enrich and subvert our understanding of ‘place’ as something that is not only physical or material (i.e. a geographical location) but also ontological and existential; a place becomes a place through patterns of meaning. Additionally, the work is guided by William James Booth’s The Color of Memory, which deals more explicitly with the violence of identity formation in these colonial contexts.